What's Left Ypsilanti

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A Community Land Trust Convergence

Desiraé Simmons

I first learned about Community Land Trusts (CLTs) while living in Boston, MA. The Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (DSNI) was created to “empower residents to organize, plan for, create and control a vibrant, diverse, and high quality neighborhood.” The community worked to reclaim land that had been victimized by divestment, arson, and dumping — all signs of the white supremacist structures we operate under given the demographics of the Dudley neighborhood. So, the strong Black and Brown community in Roxbury organized and created a strategy to develop without displacement and to build economic and cultural power across the neighborhood. As part of the democratically developed strategy to revitalize the area Dudley Neighbors, Incorporated was formed as a CLT to develop permanent housing affordability and opportunities for small businesses. When I moved to Ypsilanti and learned more about the threat of gentrification encroaching here, I couldn’t help but think about whether CLTs could be an important part of the puzzle to building economic democracy here. Less than five years later, I rarely have a conversation about affordable housing without someone suggesting CLTs as an option to explore. It’s looking like 2019 is bringing together networks that wield power in different arenas where new allies in support of CLTs can be found, a convergence on the horizon.

The Huron Valley Democratic Socialists of America (HVDSA) convened two meetings for Washtenaw County residents, formal and informal organizations, governmental agencies, and politicians to address our affordable housing crisis. During the March 24th meeting, Ypsilanti Township Trustee Monica Ross Williams asked, “When will affordable housing include home ownership?” She had not yet heard about CLTs but was willing to learn more about them, as long as they are not like the Land Banks we see in Detroit. The HVDSA also shared that their Chapter Campaign Proposal on Housing includes CLTs as an opportunity to develop social housing.

[Community Land Trusts] can be non-contiguous ― properties interspersed through neighborhoods can be a part of the land trust.

Rising for Economic Democracy in Ypsilanti (REDY) hosted a community visioning meeting during which CLTs were raised as an opportunity for senior housing and tiny homes. One of the community members, Monica King, has been advocating for CLTs for years. It must be working, because her Ward 3 City Council representative, Pete Murdock, submitted affordable housing and developing CLTs as part of his goals for the January 23rd goal-setting meeting. In fact, Council Member Murdock had planned to join a group of REDY organizers at a CLT Workshop that was led by the Detroit People’s Platform, Community Development Advocates of Detroit, and Detroit Justice Center. While he was unable to attend, it was a packed room of people looking for answers to the oppressive capitalist state. After removing tables and squeezing in as many chairs as possible, the growing line of community activists were told they would have to return for the next session.

The workshop detailed the history of the first CLT started in the 1960s in Southwest Georgia as protection against retaliation for African-Americans registering to vote. It also highlighted the work and need for broad-based community support in order to achieve success. Two tidbits of information relevant to Ypsilanti are that CLTs can be non-contiguous — meaning that properties interspersed through neighborhoods can be a part of the land trust. And, given Ypsilanti’s 70% rental population, it was good to learn that the land trust can also include rental properties.

There is so much more to learn in order to determine if CLTs are an opportunity for Ypsilanti to turn the tides of gentrification toward racial and economic justice. The Subcommittee on Housing Affordability and Accessibility is proposing that the Planning Commission explore policy options for creating CLTs. They will host an open forum to share their findings and to gather community input about other potential solutions they should recommend. The open forum will be held on May 2nd from 6:30-8:30 pm at Riverside Art Center in the gallery which is accessible via elevator.

So, the convergence continues and I look forward to delving more deeply into the question of whether CLTs are a promising approach for Ypsilantians looking for a collective approach to self-determination.

For more information, check out Streets of Dreams by New Day Films, a video about the Lopez Community Land Trust.

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